We’ve all seen stories of look-alikes switching places, whether it has been in Hollywood or Bollywood, but rarely have we seen such a story on our screens in Pakistani dramas. While “Jeevan Nagar” took off to a serious start and set the scene for a thought-provoking show, humor is slowly trickling into the narrative at full force, weaving comedy and meaning into the story side by side. Starring Sohail Ahmed in the lead double roles as Laali and Babbar Shah, “Jeevan Nagar” also stars Rabia Butt, Noor Ul Hassan, Kashif Mehmood, Khalid Butt, Tahira Imam, Kinza Malik, Amna Malick, Saqib Sumeer and others. The story has been written by Awais Ahmed and directed by Kashif Nisar.
In episode 7, the town prepares for Nida (Amna Malick) and Yasir’s (Hassan Mir) wedding. This is yet another moment where the double standards are clear between men and women. Under the circumstances, sure, things would be tense, but a wedding is still taking place. Yasir is going for facials and haircuts in preparation for their upcoming marriage while Nida sits at home, wondering if her family will even participate in her wedding. This couple is so sweet and innocent and it’s heartbreaking to see how their special day is being treated like a crime. Amna Malick and Hassan Mir are sweet performers, making the audience root for their mistreated characters.
Along the same lines, there’s a moment where Hanif (Khalid Butt) attempts to arrange his daughter’s marriage. In the end, the eligible suitor rejects Hanif, stating that he’s of a lower class and isn’t up to his standard. This is a tragic moment and Khalid Butt shows, once again, that he’s a great performer. With two daughters, Hanif’s only goal is to get them married into respectable households, but finds that his career and social standing make that difficult.
The highlight of the episode are the scenes between Babbar Shah and Munni (Rabia Butt) as she drops in to visit him unannounced. Babbar Shah is a man feared by the entire town, a man who controls his entire area with an iron fist while also having a kind heart. However, in front of Munni, he is quiet, uncertain of how to behave and in awe of the outspoken young woman in front of him. Rabia Butt is a natural in this role and enacts the role of Munni with a confidence that makes her feel real. Munni genuinely seems to like Babbar Shah, but is also wary of saying or doing anything to upset him – and ultimately is left worrying if she’s done exactly that. What is it that upsets Babbar Shah so when Munni says she doesn’t fear him? This appears to have flicked a switch for him and his reaction leaves Munni and the audience confused.
Meanwhile, on the other side of town, Laali prepares to take over as Babbar Shah. Sohail Ahmed must be commended for how he plays this role entirely different to Babar Shah. The look, the traits, the body language has all been worked on down to the last detail and one could easily forget that Sohail is playing two separate roles in this show. Laali’s unhappiness at having her hair cut off to having to change her entire identity is heartbreaking – and yet, serves as evidence of what a great actor Sohail Ahmed is.
Overall, “Jeevan Nagar” is a genuinely beautiful show with many interesting storylines running parallel to each other. With the plan in motion, we have to wonder how the story will move forward. Will Babbar Shah be shot (or just kidnapped, hopefully)? Will Laali successfully take his place? There’s a lot to unpack in this story, but it’s also a joy to watch due to the intelligent writing and wonderful performances.